The first vehicle named after legend John Z. DeLorean was not the gull-winged, stainless-steel sports car that bore his last name in the early 1980s. Rather, it was the blazingly successful 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix, designated “Model J” after DeLorean’s first initial. DeLorean was Pontiac’s general manger in the mid-1960s and had a vision for his division’s line-topper. It would be a classic reborn with a short deck, a very long hood and a trimmer exterior to set it apart from the “personal luxury” pack. Reckoned by some – depending on how the measurement was taken – to have the longest snout in the industry, Grand Prix was, nonetheless, a triumph of proportion and restraint.
Previous generation Grand Prix shared underpinnings with pedestrian Catalinas; ‘69 –’72 models were built on a smaller, exclusive 118-inch wheelbase platform that, of course, featured a wide-track stance and exuded all the class for which DeLorean had strived. It was the Pontiac with panache.
The hardtop styling was classic and clean with a very wide C-pillar that enhanced the car’s aura of exclusivity. That lengthy snout was fronted by a “beaked” two piece grill that approximated snorting nostrils. Chrome-free flanks – cladding wasn’t even a gleam in Pontiac designers’ eyes back then – emphasized the car’s understated assurance and the slotted taillights were something of an innovation. The new concealed radio antenna built into the windshield made for unfettered fenders, and the flush mounted door handles also kept things neat. In keeping with the style of the times, many were equipped with vinyl tops, though the purity of the design is best maintained if you can find one without.
This being the big brother of the GTO, power was a primary concern. The standard engine was a 400ci V-8 good for 350 horsepower. Most were equipped with turbo hydromatics, but some manual transmission-equipped cars, both three and four speeds, were built through the ’71 model year.
Though all GPs embodied luxury and performance, the upgraded SJ model (the designation recalling Duesenbergs of yore) offered more standard features plus a range of 428 ci motors good for up to 390 horsepower. Later, the 428 discontinued in favor of a 455 cubic inch engine that produced 500 pound feet of stump pulling, or, as was more often the case, horse-trailer towing torque.
Subtle changes to the body over the four-year run didn’t compromise the classic lines introduced in ’69, not even the neo-boat tail rear that debuted in ’71. Age has been good to the GP; its silhouette and contours are ageless. Not a wallowing land yacht, nor a bucket seated compact overachiever, the Grand Prix was, and still is, in a class all its own. The eternal design and potent yet tried-and-true mechanicals coupled with the fact that GPs are both affordable to buy and maintain make a compelling case for drivable collectibility. Grand Prix is a logical choice for reserved vehicular self indulgence, a paragon of upward mobility, now as it was then.
WHAT TO PAY: $9000–$15,000 (428 equipped cars can command a 15-30 percent premium)
PRODUCTION FIGURES: 328,922 (only 489 were Hurst-built SSJs with “fire frost” gold detail, offered ’70-‘72)
WATCH OUT FOR: Fuel consumption is worrisome. Long hood and thick C-pillar make visibility fore and aft problematic.
READ MORE: Pontiac Muscle Cars by Mike Mueller, MBI Publishing, 96 pages, $14.95
75 Years of Pontiac: The Official History, Krause Publications, 223 pages, $29.95
CLUBS: Pontiac-Oakland Owners Club Intl., Bradenton, FL, www.poci.org
SPARES: Green's Obsolete Parts, Pepperell, MA, 978/433-3393; http://members.aol.com/gtopilot
Billions & Trillions, Tulsa, OK, 918/493-1966, www.billionsandtrillionsinc.com